Optimizing Your Cover Letter to Get the Interview
The cover letter is, in many cases, just as important as your actual resume. A cover letter needs to make the case for you as a professional and a person. Unlike the resume, which is like the summary of your accomplishments, the cover letter serves as your first impression.
That said, there isn’t a universal method for writing professional cover letters. But here are a few cover letter tips to help optimize your letter so that is has a better chance of clearing application screening software and grabbing the attention of the reader, landing you that interview.
Research the Company
A generic cover letter is a guaranteed way to land your application in the trash. You need to tailor your cover letter to the specifications of the job ad, needs of the company, and the personality of the organization as a whole.
Make sure to read their website, looking for pages like
- “Mission Statement”
- “About Us”
- Any descriptions or professional bios of employees
- Blog posts or other articles
Also check out the LinkedIn profiles of staff, and see if you can find any reviews from customers, clients, or former employees.
Spell out accomplishments that align with the values they communicate on these pages. Use the language they use, but make it so that you use that language to describe your own professional past and goals.
Make Sure the Letter Has Beginning, Middle, and End
A good cover letter should be easy to read, concise, and contain the following items:
- Why you are interested in the position (or what you bring to it),
- How your skills align with the job advertised, and
- A call to action (why they should contact you).
Introduce yourself with a quick rundown of your skills and experience, and how they link to the job. Then, in a second paragraph, explain how your skills match the ones necessary for the job (and use concrete examples--ones from a previous job or jobs). Finally, conclude with a reason and invitation to contact you.
In this way, the cover letter is much like a sales pitch: at the end, you are getting a potential client to call you for the interview.
Differentiate from the Resume
Your cover letter is not a mini-resume. It is a totally different document, meant to get someone to read your resume (or, at least, see you as a professional). You already included a resume, packed with all the great things you did at your previous job, so use the real estate of your cover letter to show personality and highlight something not already on the resume itself.
Don’t repeat yourself in the cover letter. Make it unique. Reference a story or an accomplishment that isn’t on the resume, or take something important and expand upon it.
Include Keywords Naturally
Job advertisements implicitly or explicitly include keywords that match desired qualifications. It may seem unprofessional to reuse those keywords on your resume or cover letter.
Use the keywords on your cover letter.
Keywords are necessary for multiple reasons. Most importantly, many companies now use application portals that include AI software to weed out applications that don’t specifically reference those keywords.
More importantly, however, a hiring manager probably won’t find much interest in a cover letter that doesn’t mention any of the qualifications on the cover letter. If a job ad focuses on project management, for example, then it seems amateur to not mention project management experience in the cover letter. If you can’t find a place to mention project management, or you don’t have experience with it, rethink where you are spending your time and energy.
Work relevant keyword into the document so they pop out, without sounding forced.
Provide Active, Quantitative Descriptions of Your Professional Background
Many of us write passively. While completely acceptable in many situations, in the world of short resumes and cover letters, active language works best. Your letter should address a potential reader with direct, active language.
Passive language presents success as just “happening” around you, while active language denotes that you are the driver of that success. Provide examples of work with active construction:
Wrong: My successes are due to my skill in project management.
Right: I am a successful project manager.
Show Your Personality… and Align It with Your New Job
The cover letter, unlike the resume, gives you a chance to write in your own voice, rather than in a bulleted list of accomplishments. You can include your enthusiasm, attitude, and excitement within a letter and help it stand out to the human readers that might take a glance at it.
That being said, think about the culture of the company you are applying to. If you are writing for a professional corporation of non-profit, then a cocky or funny approach might not work as well as it would with a hip and young marketing agency.
Finally, never forget to be yourself. All the tricks and techniques used to get your killer application in front of hiring managers don’t matter if the documents aren’t actually you. Interviewers will see right through you if what you are on paper is not what you are in person.
Get the Perfect Cover Letter
Written By Career Operative's Branding Experts